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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 16:56 GMT
Kennedy brand in Maryland
BBC Washington correspondent Nick Bryant examines the gubernatorial race in Maryland where Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the eldest daughter of Robert F Kennedy, is hoping to follow in the family tradition.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend not only has the toothy grin of her father but the same daunting steeliness.

She is the only Kennedy woman ever to hold elective office, and the one member of America's most famous political dynasty who, her fans would have you believe, stands a realistic chance of becoming president.


She was 16 years old when Robert F Kennedy was assassinated. She has inherited many of the personal qualities that made him a politician of such immense potential - the same vibrancy, the same restlessness, the same self-deprecating humour, and the same wide-eyed idealism.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: Same steeliness as her father
While many of the younger Kennedys have often seemed brash, arrogant and over-reaching - much like Bobby in his youth - Townsend has matured into a likeable and effective politician.

Some call her the 'Anti-Kennedy', citing her success at steering clear of the scandal and misfortune which has blighted the fragile lives of so many of her siblings and cousins.

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The trouble is, her popularity with national reporters - ever since 1947, when Jack Kennedy first entered Congress, Washington scribes have loved writing fawning, often hagiographic, articles about the Kennedy family - stands in marked contrast to the press she gets at home.

'Raised doubts'

Nationally, she is viewed as a rising star. In Maryland, where she has served as Lieutenant Governor for the past eight years, she appears to have lost much of her lustre.

How about this from the Baltimore Sun: "Deep into her campaign, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has yet to shake a sense among one-third of likely voters that she isn't up to the job of being Governor. She raised doubts early on with uneven speaking performances and gaffes."

Or this from the Washington Post: "Her stump style has been criticised as awkward, uninspiring and prone to the kind of gaffes that haunt her for a long time."

Some of her verbal fender-benders are of presidential quality. Like George W Bush, she appears to have been born with a silver foot in her mouth. "We're hiring people who speak Hispanish," she once said, adding that "Hispanic is an important language to learn."

And she reinforced her reputation as a gaffe-prone performer at the start of the campaign, when, in announcing her running mate, former Admiral Charles Lawson, she called him "Larson".

Floral tribute to sniper victims
Maryland was shaken by the sniper shootings
Few think that Kennedy Townsend is stupid. Far from it. Critics complained that her announcement speech was too philosophical (she spoke of Maryland having "an indispensable destiny", whatever that means).

What is clear is that she's far from the finished product, that she still has much to learn. The Kennedy production line hasn't necessarily turned out a dud. It's just that Townsend remains a work in progress.

If the 51-year-old does have presidential aspirations, then she needs to win big in Maryland, where the Democrats have occupied the governor's mansion for the past 30 years. But that isn't going to happen.

With her name recognition and bulging campaign war chest, she should be cruising to victory.

Defeat 'predicted'

But the race, against four-term Congressman Robert L Enrlich, has become surprisingly tight. If it hadn't been for the Maryland sniper shootings, which raised doubts in voters' minds about Enrlich's pro-gun credentials, some commentators were even predicting a humiliating defeat.

As veteran political analyst Charlie Cook puts it: "The fact that that race is basically dead-even between Congressman Bob Ehrlich and Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend suggests that either Ehrlich is an absolutely superhuman candidate or that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is a terrible candidate.

"I don't think Ehrlich is superhuman. I think he's pretty good. But draw whatever conclusions you want from the rest of that."

Democratic chieftains, eyeing up Kennedy Townsend as a possible vice-presidential nominee in 2002, are taking careful note. The Kennedy brand, it seems, is about to be devalued.

Campaign diary

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